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Through the Andes, not over them

19 Mar 2008

ARGENTINA: At the end of January the governments of Argentina and Chile formally abandoned tendering for the project to restore the rail connection between their two countries, having received a single, non-compliant bid.

Originally developed by Argentinian engineering consultancy Tecnicagua, the project would have seen the 225 km metre-gauge route between Los Andes and Mendoza restored to increase freight capacity across the Uspallata Pass, currently used by some 4·3 million tonnes of road freight a year and often closed by snow.

Rights to this project were subsequently purchased by Corporación América (RG 10.07 p601) which is now proposing a 23 km base tunnel at an altitude of 2 500 m, in place of restoring the disused line which reaches a height of 3 185 m above sea level and was formerly worked with the assistance of the Abt rack system on both sides of the border.

Corporación América's Project Manager Juan Manuel Collazo said that the original project was 'very limiting, and we decided to put it aside and present a new one'. A base tunnel for lorry shuttles would enable the rail link to carry 30 million tonnes of freight a year, he explained, in place of the 5 million tonnes likely to be captured by the diesel-worked metre-gauge route.

The new project would cost US$2·81bn, including $1·2bn for the base tunnel itself, $897·5m for its broad-gauge rail connections and $210m for electrification works. For the present, Corporación América is to spend $7m on feasibility studies that would form the basis of future tendering as a private finance initiative.